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(Rockland Boulders – Photo Credit: Drew Wohl)

Wrapping up their four consecutive playoff berth last weekend in Trois-Rivieres, the Rockland Boulders turned their attention home. Next up was a four-game series against Sussex County. Three of the games taking place at Boulders’ Palisades Credit Union Park. So far this season, Rockland had dominated the series grabbing 11 out of 13.

In game one, Boulders right fielder Mike Montville feasted on Miners pitching bashing two solo home runs including a monstrous blast off the left field scoreboard. With the game at 2-2 in the fourth, bases loaded and two outs, Mike Fransoso cleared the bases. Fransoso whacked a drive to the right field wall and would come to score after catcher Brian Mayer air-mailed a throw into left field.

“A good start there to get us on the board,” said Montville. “The good part about our lineup is if a couple of guys aren’t having a good night, others are picking it up. Don’t solely rely on one or two guys. I have done a better job of swinging at pitches and making adjustments.”

Rockland tacked on a couple more runs in the fifth due to rash of miscues by the Miners defense. Topa departed after six innings yielding four runs. Two were earned on seven hits while striking out six and walking two. In the eighth, Sussex County responded with back-to-back RBI doubles from Nate Irving and Jay Baum. Attempting to break the Rockland franchise season home record, set by Keith Brachold in 2012, Joe Maloney delivered that signature blow. This earned him his 30th home run deep over the left center field wall.

“Topa was real good. They found a couple of holes on him tonight but he battled and was untouchable for the first couple of innings,” said Manager Jamie Keefe. “We scored three runs on one hit in the eighth inning.” On Maloney breaking the franchise home run record, “That’s what he wanted to do. [He] put a lot of pressure on himself and commend him for battling through and tough stretch lately.”

Game two of the series switched to Skylands Stadium in Augusta, New Jersey. An RBI ground out by Marcus Nidiffer put Rockland up after the first inning. Sussex County wasted no time answering back. C.J. Rutherford led off the second crushing solo shot over the left field off Boulders starter Markus Solbach, coming off two impressive outings on the hill. An RBI single by Rubi Silva gave the Miners the lead and they would not look back.

In the fourth, Sussex County tacked on two additional runs. The runs came from a Nate Irving run-producing single and Carlos Lopez double. Leading off the fifth, Chase McDonald socked a solo shot over the left field wall to put the game out of reach. Heavy thunderstorms inundated the stadium, forcing the game to be called after six innings. The Miners picked up a 6-2 victory.

“They were just in attack mode. We had our chances and couldn’t find a hole,” Keefe said.

With games three and four switching back to Palisades Credit Union Park, David Fischer took the mound at home for the first time since last September. The Miners quickly tagged Fischer for two runs in the third inning. Rockland answered back in the bottom half of the frame on a RBI single by Dylan Tice. Marcus Nidffer provided a spark with runners on the corner and two outs crushing a two-run triple off the base of the green monster wall in center field.

Tice and Nidiffer were not done producing runs on the night with Wilson adding a RBI single in the fifth. Also, Nidiffer golfing his 12th home run of the season in the sixth inning. On fire in his last seven games, Nidiffer has belted four home runs and driven in 12 runs.

“Hitting is always a battle whether you are healthy or not. Jamie [Keefe] said to me you have to make constant adjustments. I had to sit out the middle of the year but feel good now. Good for me and rest of the team”

Fischer (2-0) left after five innings surrendering two runs. One earned on three hits while whiffing five and walking three. With C.J. Riefenhouser on the mound in the seventh, Sussex County had runners on first and second with none out. Riefenhouser escaped unscathed getting J.J. Fernandez to line out into a double play and fanning Nate Irving.

Seizing upon that momentum, Rockland tacked on three runs in the eighth to salt the contest away. Facing former Boulder Hector Nelo, who uncorked a wild pitch with runners on second and third, allowing Cody Regis to come into score. Daniel Arribas would follow with a RBI ground out and back-to-back RBI doubles by Dylan Tice (3 for 5, 2 RBI’s) and Fransoso.

“A real big one and tonight, felt like playoff baseball with Cody [Regis] back and Fischer on the mound,” said Keefe. “He [Fischer] is pretty damn good. Lucky to have him on our side. Happy to have him back.”

“It’s not how you start but how you finish. The Captain [Nidiffer] is heating up. We have been doing a little extra work with him. He scalded that ball to center field and ride him while he is hot.”

In the final regular season meeting, both teams’ morphed into a home run derby early on. Sussex County jumped out to the early advantage on a two-run bomb by Nate Irving off the Mercedes-Benz sign in right center field in the second inning.

The red-hot Montville continued to torch Miners pitching lead off the bottom half of the inning, slugging his third home run of the series. Also, his 13th of the year into first row of seats in right center field. Miguel Mogus delivered fireworks cranking a two-run missile into the Short Porch area in right field. Rockland made history tying the Can-Am League record for most home runs hit in a season. Also, 108 that was set by the New Jersey Jackals back in 2012.

“We try to build this team for this ball park. Regis and Smith a big part of that. We know [Maloney] would have a good year. Marcus [Niddifer] and Montville are guys that have an opportunity to leave the yard at anytime,” said Keefe.

Meanwhile starter Bo Budkevics rolled through the first six innings striking out six hitters. Equally impressive, the relief pitching of Sussex County retiring 11 Boulders batters in a row. Budkevics tossed six innings giving up two runs on five hits while mowing down seven and walking two. In the seventh, the Miners threatened with runners on first and second and one out but Thomas Lawrence wiggled out of the jam retiring the last two hitters.

In the eighth, Sussex County put the pressure on once again with runners on the corner and two outs. Keefe called upon closer Jon Velasquez but unable to hold the lead surrendered a three-run homer to J.J. Fernandez. Incensed by some pitches that were not called strikes, both Keefe and Fernandez were ejected from the game by home plate umpire Tim McCaffrey.

The Miners plated two more runs in the ninth off Matt Kostalos increasing the advantage to 7-3. Refusing to leave quietly, Rockland loaded up the bases off three straight walks issued by Hector Nelo. With the tying run at the plate, Marcus Nidiffer drilled a fly ball to the warning track in the left field but Fernandez reeled in the catch. On the play Daniel Arribas tagged up and came to score. Unfortunately, that is as close as the Boulders would get.

“Bo [Budkevics] was in control all night. The sign of a good pitcher giving up solo home runs. We were able to explode for thee runs and get an immediate response,” said Keefe. “Bo was really good tonight. The velocity went up and kept us where we needed to be. Should have got that win. We needed to do that to win the game but couldn’t close the door and part that hurts. We gave ourselves a chance to win the ball game and five feet away from continuing that game.”

Next Up

Rockland (58-32) wraps up their 2017 regular season home schedule with a pivotal three-game series against the first-place Quebec Capitales (59-30). Currently, the Boulders are a game and half behind Quebec. The season series has been evenly matched with the Capitales winning 6 of the 11 meetings.

“We just need to win series’ and win all three series’, then we’re in a good situation,” Keefe said. “Over the next couple of days, you’re going to feel a big buzz in this building [Palisades Credit Union Park]. We’ll see what happens.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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